Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Hance-Escalante-Tanner Trip - Day 1

I'm back from April's first backpacking trip. Todd and I did about 30 miles in three days, one day shorter than planned.

The trip started fast. We had to park about eight-tenths of a mile from the trail head and the walk along the blacktop seemed like it was no more 10 minutes in length. Then things slowed down.

New Hance Trail
Todd near the top of New Hance Trail.

Here's a sentence from the park service literature concerning the trail: "It is not maintained and may be the most difficult established trail on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon." Here's another interesting quote from a 1904 travel writer.
There may be men who can ride unconcernedly down Hance's Trail, but I confess I am not one of them. My object in descending made it essential that I should live to tell the tale, and therefore, I mustered up sufficient moral courage to dismount and scramble down the steepest and most awful sections of the path on foot...... 'On foot,' however, does not express it, but on heels and toes, on hands and knees, and sometimes in the posture assumed by children when they come bumping down the stars...... The path down which we have turned appears impossible..... The pitch for the first mile is frightful... and to our dismayed, unaccustomed minds the inclination apparently increases, as if the canyon walls were slowly toppling inwards....

I read these and didn't take them seriously. I've read too many similar descriptions that experience didn't support. In this case, however, they are fairly apt descriptions.

New Hance Trail
A typical section of the trail.

I fell four times. Todd fell three that I counted. He had the most dramatic fall. I heard gravel rolling under boots and turned in time to see him spinng, trying to catch his balance, arms in the air, trekking poles sailing in arcs. He bounced on one hip over the side of the slope, continued to rotate, landed on hands and feet and continued to slide down the side of the canyon. Finally he slid to a stop and then had to cautiously climb lower to retrieve one of his trekking poles.

We were the first down the trail and stopped for lunch about noon. Some guys passed us without trekking poles which I noted with interest. My poles saved me several times. After lunch as we started down the trail I noticed drops of blood. One of them must have taken a fairly bad fall.

New Hance Trail
A more interesting, steep and loose section of the trail.

Late in the afternoon I was ready to get to the river. My knees were aching, leg muscles were failing and energy was waning. Near the river we found some clear water and filled up so we wouldn't have to filter the silty river water. We took a break and continued east for another mile to get just across the boundary for which we had a permit. It was the longest, continually steepest trail I can remember. Long is OK, steep is OK but not long and steep.

New Hance Trail
Looking up river at the top of Hance Rapids.

About half way to the bottom Todd made a comment. "There are some trails that I want to do again but I never want to do this trail again." I understand what he was saying but I don't agree. I'd do the trail again but I'd make sure I could do it in two days to give my knees and legs one night to recover about half way down.

New Hance Trail
A section of trail between Hance Rapids and Papago Creek.

I chose not to take a tent because it wasn't cold and there was no forecast of rain. I slept on a ground tarp beneath a beautiful moon. The first night was windy, really windy.

I had one interesting experience. I woke about 11:30, spit out as much beach sand as I could and walked to the edge of the river to answer nature's call. As I took my last step to the waters edge I spooked a beaver who created a sudden splash about five feet from where I stood. The moonlight on the canyon walls and river, the sounds of the rapids and the unexpected beaver made a fine end to a challenging day.

New Hance Trail
Home for the night at Papago Creek.


Blogger Anvilcloud said...

There's nothing like a stroll in the country.

4/10/2012 12:42:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Better you than me, my love.

4/10/2012 04:28:00 PM  
Anonymous Alex said...

That was not a "trail". THAT was a ragged line etched into the landscape of masochism. I don't think I want to walk on something that is making a concerted effort to walk on me.

The AT is going to be an velvet lined escalator compared to THAT!

4/10/2012 07:18:00 PM  

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